Reference NumberL/SMB
TitleRecords of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney
DescriptionScope and content:
The cumulative record of the activities and decisions of the Metropolitan Borough may be found in its departmental records and in the minutes and papers of its committees. The departmental records document the work of the Borough's chief officers and their support staff; the records of the various committees document the work and decisions of the elected members of the Borough. There is much overlap as the chief officers reported to the committees.
Extent983 items
AdminHistoryThe Metropolitan Borough of Stepney was a local authority in the former County of London for Stepney, the main areas of which were:
- Limehouse
- Mile End New Town Hamlet
- Mile End Old Town
- Ratcliff Hamlet
- Shadwell
- Spitalfields
- St George-in-the-East
- Wapping
- Whitechapel

There were a number of smaller ancient constituent parts of Stepney:
- Norton Folgate Liberty
- Old Artillery Ground Liberty
- Tower (extra parochial) and Old Tower Without Precinct
- St Katherine by the Tower Precinct
- St Botolph Without Aldgate (or East Smithfield) Liberty

The following statistics were gathered at around the time of the Borough's creation::
- Area: 1,765 acres (this had increased to 1,903 acres by 1930)
- Population (1896): 295,547
- Rateable value (1899): £1,348,943
- Number of MPs: 5

Origins and purpose
The Metropolitan Borough of Stepney was created in 1900 under the terms of the 1899 London Government Act. The Act replaced the old system of governance based mainly on vestries, which had developed from the civil role of ancient parishes, and district boards. Across London, 28 new borough councils were created consisting of a mayor, aldermen and elected councillors, supported by salaried officers and departmental staff headed by the town clerk, treasurer, borough engineer and surveyor - all key local figures in their day.
The new Metropolitan Borough replaced:
- Limehouse District Board of Works
- Mile End Old Town Vestry
- St George-in-the-East Vestry
- Whitechapel District Board of Works

The Borough was initially divided into 19 wards for electoral purposes: Centre, Limehouse North, Limehouse South, Mile End New Town, North East, North, Ratcliffe, Shadwell, South East, South, Spitalfields East, Spitalfields West, St George-in-the-East North, St George-in-the-East South, The Tower, West, Whitechapel East, Whitechapel Middle and Whitechapel South. The first elections to the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney were held in late 1900. The Borough was initially financed from a general rate of businesses and residents; however, loans for part-financing services and facilities were obtainable from a central government department rather than from the London County Council (LCC) which had been established in 1888.

The Metropolitan Borough of Stepney was abolished in 1965 as part of a major reorganisation of local government in London that followed the passing of the 1963 London Government Act; Stepney joined the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green and Poplar and became a district in the newly created London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which officially came into being on 1 April 1965.

The Metropolitan Borough inherited a number of functions from the previous system of vestry-based local government, which was supposed to have made provision for, among other things, services and facilities relating to:
- regulating the sanitary conditions of houses, including the power to condemn and close insanitary dwellings
- the acquisition and demolition of condemned houses
- rules governing the letting of premises in lodgings and tenements
- the acquisition of land for the provision of public lodgings and tenement houses for the poor
- street paving and lighting
- the provision of public baths and wash-houses
- the provision of public libraries
- cemeteries and other works relating to public health
- the provision and maintenance of open spaces and other public amenities

Over the 65-year history of its existence, the Metropolitan Borough expanded the scope of its functional remit to take in numerous other matters, including, but by no means limited to:
- electricity supply
- The Borough inherited the early work of supplying electricity done by the predecessor Whitechapel
District Board of Works, which had received a Provisional Order in 1892; further late Orders were granted
in 1900 to Limehouse District Board of Works and the Mile End Old Town and St George-in-the-East
Vestries. Electricity supply had begun in Whitechapel in 1899 at the Osborn Street generating station
(built 1898). In 1903 the Borough's Electricity Supply Committee purchased Blyth's Wharf in Limehouse
and erected a generating station there in 1908. Offices and showrooms were at 27 Osborn Street.
Responsibility for electricity supply was handed over to the nationalised London Electricity Board in 1948.
- street maintenance and improvement, including scavenging
- the removal and disposal of refuse
- local museums
- maternity and child welfare services
- the registration of births, deaths and marriages
- the inspection of sanitary conditions in factories, dairies, shops selling food, slaughterhouses and seamen's

Key activities, events and personalities
Between 1900 and 1965, the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney saw some key developments and events which are of local, regional and national importance. Among some of the key personalities connected to the Borough, and important events to have occurred were:
- 1902: Mile End Tube Station opened by the Whitechapel and Bow Railway
- 3 June 1904: opening of the St George's Nature Study Museum in the churchyard of St George-in-the-East
- 1906-18: William Wedgwood Benn - father of Labour politician Tony Benn - sits as Liberal MP for St George's
- January 1911: so-called 'Siege of Sidney Street' in which Winston Churchill plays a directing part
- Clement Attlee (mayor of Stepney 1919; MP for Limehouse 1922-50; leader of the Labour Party 1935-55; Prime
Minister 1945-51)
- 1930: boxer Jack 'Kid' Berg of Whitechapel becomes World Light Welterweight (intermediate level between
lightweight and middleweight) Champion
- 1930s: major 'slum' clearances of existing housing stock began
- 11 September 1933: opening of the Troxy cinema on Commercial Street - the programme is headlined by King
- 4 October 1936: the Battle of Cable Street - violent clash between the Metropolitan Police and anti-fascist
demonstrators. The police had been protecting a march by members of the British Union of Fascists led by
Oswald Mosley
- 1937: construction of Arbour House completed, designed according to modernist principles by the Borough
architect Bernard James Belsher
- 22 July 1938: actor Terence Stamp born in Stepney
- 13 June 1944: the first V-1 flying bomb during the Second World War (1939-45) to hit London falls on Grove Road
- 5 July 1945: Mile End returns Phil Piratin as MP, one of two communists elected to the House of Commons in the
first post-war general election
- 1950-65: extended period of local authority housing for residents combined the rebuilding of bomb sites after the
Second World War. Major housing estates constructed in Stepney include:
- 1950: Limehouse Fields Estate - 433 dwellings
- 1950: Tarling Street Estate - 226 dwellings
- 1954: Cornwall Street Estate - 124 dwellings
- 1956: Christchurch Estate (Spital Street) - 140 dwellings
- 1960: Sidney Street Estate - 570 dwellings
- 1965: Martineau Street Estate (Cable Street) - 137 dwellings
- November 1960: the Troxy screens its last film - The Siege of Sidney Street

The administration of the Borough was carried out from a number of locations, including from several pre-1900 buildings which still survive as classic examples of Victorian/Edwardian municipal architecture.

The building at the eastern end of the Commercial Road close to St Anne's, Limehouse, which served as the 'town hall' for the Limehouse District Board of Works was designed by the well-known municipal architects Arthur and Christopher Harston and built by J. H. Johnson of Commercial Road. It was opened on 29 March 1881, the final cost being in the region of £10,000. Limehouse Town Hall provided the Council's committee rooms for many years; it also served as a place for social gatherings such as dances and film screenings. The building was later used for various administrative purposes after the Borough was merged with Bethnal Green and Poplar in 1965 to form the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

After 1900, the St George-in-the-East Vestry Hall in Cable Street (designed by Andrew Wilson and opened in 1860 at a cost of some £4500) housed the Borough Council chamber and was known informally as 'Stepney Town Hall'. The striking mural on the side of the building commemorating the Battle of Cable Street was painted between 1979 and 1983 by the artists Dave Binnington, Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort: it is a world-famous example of this art form. Post-1965, the building was used for neighbourhood housing offices, but it was also home to a boxing club and facilities for various local community groups.

The Borough's Public Health Department was based in the former Limehouse District Board of Works building in White Horse Road; the building was designed by the Board's surveyor C. R. Dunch and erected by J. Jacobs 1862-64 at a cost of £5172. In 1994 the building became home to the Half Moon Theatre.

Mile End Old Town Vestry Hall was built in 1860-61 to the designs of the Vestry surveyor James Knight and at a cost of £4758. Following the creation of the Borough in 1900, the building was quickly converted to a library and formally opened as such on 9 January 1902; the Borough's first head librarian was the pioneering Albert Cawthorne. Extensions to the building were added in 1905-06 and 1936-37, the latter under the direction of the Borough architect Bernard James Belsher. The building is home to the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

Mayors of Stepney:

1900-1902 Edward Mann (two terms)
1902-1903 Henry Potter
1903-1904 William James Barker
1904-1907 Rowland Hirst (three terms)
1907-1909 Hon. Harry Lawson (two terms)
1909-1910 George Albert Dutfield
1910-1912 Henry Potter (second and third terms)
1912-1913 Walter H Jones
1913-1915 Hugh Thomas Arthur Chidgey (two terms)
1915-1916 James Daniel Kiley
1916-1917 Hugh Thomas Arthur Chidgey (third term)
1917-1918 Dr Jerome Joseph Reidy
1918-1919 Francis J Miles
1919-1920 Clement Attlee
1920-1921 Thomas Joseph Cahill
1921-1922 Oscar Tobin
1922-1923 Harry Kosky
1923-1924 Alfred John Henry Prevost
1924-1925 Jack Davis Somper
1925-1926 Joseph Hurley
1926-1927 Jack Sullivan
1927-1928 George Groves
1928-1929 Daniel (Dan) Frankel
1929-1930 Henry James Lazarus
1930-1931 Morris Harold Davis
1931-1932 Miriam Moses
1932-1933 Robert George Mullan
1933-1934 Richard James Woodham
1934-1935 Isidore Morris Vogler
1935-1936 Helena Roberts
1936-1937 John Charles Lawder
1937-1938 Jeremiah Joseph Anthony Long
1938-1939 Joseph Johnson
1939-1940 Frank Robert Lewey
1940-1941 George Chamberlain
1941-1942 John Pritchard
1942-1943 Henry Roeder
1943-1944 Edward O'Brien
1944-1945 Walter James Edwards
1945-1946 Joseph O'Connor
1946-1947 Maurice Zeital
1947-1949 Thomas Aylward
1949-1950 Frederick Benjamin Tyrrell
1950-1951 Frederick George Spearing
1951-1952 William George Humphries
1952-1953 Alfred D Bermel
1953-1954 John Patrick Long
1954-1955 Joseph McCarthy
1955-1956 James Sambrook
1956-1957 Alfred Ernest Sealey
1957-1958 John Reardon
1958-1959 William Sullivan
1959-1960 James F Calnan
1960-1961 Annie Elboz
1961-1962 Mrs Kathleen O'Connor
1962-1963 Miss Ellen M Aylward
1963-1964 Ernest Walter Hill
1964-1965 James Olley

- T. F. T. Baker (ed.), Victoria County History (VCH): Vol. XI Early Stepney with Bethnal Green (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, 1998)
- Samantha L. Bird, Stepney: A Profile of a London Borough 1914-51 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishers, 2011)
- Albert Bassett Hopkins, The Boroughs of the Metropolis (London: Bemrose and Sons, 1900)
- Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, London's Town Halls (1998)
- William A. Robson, The Government and Misgovernment of London (London: Allen and Unwin, 1939)
RelatedMaterialAlso held are records of successor London Borough of Tower Hamlets (L/THL) and also predecessors.

Records of individuals connected with the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney include:
Albert Cawthorne, fl 1902-1926, chief librarian (P/CAW)
John Collins, councillor (P/COL)
Davis Grossman, library assistant (P/GRO)

Most printed material such as the Metropolitan Borough's annual reports, brochures and handbooks, together with relevant maps and plans are in the Local History Library. For maps and plans of the Metropolitan Borough boundaries in the Local History Library search reference code 'LCM' [add * - i.e. LCM* - to search across these formats].
Access StatusOpen
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